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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Needs A Bolder Ombudsman

Admittedly, it’s hard to imagine a more thankless job than that of Russia’s state human rights ombudsman. However, the deplorable state of human rights and the government’s often callous treatment of its citizens are precisely why we need an aggressive, vocal and tireless person in this position.

Over the weekend, human rights ombudsman Oleg Mironov demonstrated once again that he is not that person by declaring that his office won’t accept complaints directed at President Vladimir Putin. "We do not allow any critical remarks regarding the president," Mironov said.

Mironov justified this startling attitude by the sophistic reasoning that "according to the Constitution, [the president] himself is the guarantor of citizens’ liberties." Instead of logically arguing from this that the ombudsman must devote particular attention to ensuring that the president faithfully fulfills this obligation, Mironov concludes that the president is above criticism. From this it is a short step to the conclusion that the entire executive branch, which of course is headed by the president, is beyond Mironov’s reach.

Click here to read our special report on human rights.Potentially, the post of human rights ombudsman could play an important role in the establishment of government accountability. The position actually began to live up to that potential when it was held by former dissident and internationally respected human rights advocate Sergei Kovalyov.

In fact, when Kovalyov resigned as President Boris Yeltsin’s human rights commissioner in January 1996, he wrote a letter in which he addressed the very issue that Mironov has raised. "The Constitution confers enormous powers on the president, but it places enormous responsibilities on him: to be the guarantor of the rights and liberties of citizens, to safeguard their security. … How have you discharged these duties? How have you fulfilled your responsibilities?"

Mironov is now arguing that the ombudsman does not have the right to ask such impertinent questions. We disagree. The ombudsman’s only real obligation is to the Constitution. When anyone, including and especially the president, infringes the rights guaranteed there, the ombudsman is duty bound to speak out and to act. The position, as Kovalyov understood so well, is primarily a moral tribune, and it is disheartening to see Mironov transform it into just another state bureaucracy.

The Constitution promises a number of basic rights, including freedom of movement, the right to alternative military service, the right to open access to information about the state of the environment and many others that are far from being effectively "guaranteed" by the president. If Mironov won’t confront Putin or anyone else on these issues, the Duma must find an ombudsman who will.